Words Create

I’m sure you’ve heard the cliche “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Think about this, however: a thousand words can create an amazing picture. There is no finer example of creating something with words than the Bible. The Book of Genesis puts us at the very edge of eternity, at the moment God created the Heavens and Earth out of vast nothingness. All you could see and all you could not see was a bottomless emptiness. An inky blackness. Interpretations differ as to precisely what this means, but taking the phrase “without form, and void” at face value, it seems to indicate that the Earth began its planetary life as an unformed, chaotic mass of material.

Birth of the Universe 1

God spoke, “Light!” and light appeared. He said, “Sky! In the middle of the waters, separate water from water!” He made sky with His words. He separated the water under the sky from the water above the sky. He said, “Water beneath heaven, gather into one place. Land appear. Earth, grow all varieties of seed-bearing plants; every sort of fruit-bearing tree.” Then He said, “Swarm, ocean, with fish and all sea life. Birds, fly through the sky over Earth.” God spoke, “Earth, generate life! Every sort and kind: cattle and reptiles and wild animals, all kinds!”

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Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, and cast out demons by speaking. He pardoned all of humanity as He hung dying on the cross when he spoke the words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (See Luke 23:34)

Water Color of Crucifixion

James 3:5-8 says, “So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.”

Of all the creatures on this planet, only man has the ability to communicate through the spoken word. The power to use words is a unique and powerful gift from God.Words do more than convey information. The power of our words can actually destroy one’s spirit, even stir up hatred and violence. Consider for a moment the long-term negative impact a father’s constant putdowns can have on his son. Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Not only do words exacerbate wounds, they inflict them directly. Are we using words to build people up or destroy them? Are they filled with hate or love, bitterness or blessing, complaining or compliments, lust or love, victory or defeat? Hope or despair? Like tools, words can be used to help us reach our goals or to send us spiraling into a deep depression. Words are so important that we are going to give an account of what we say when we stand before the Lord Jesus Christ. (See Matthew 12:36-37)

Jesus reminds us that the words we speak are actually the overflow of our hearts. (See Matthew 12:34-35) When we become a Christian, there is a change of heart. Naturally, there is an expectancy that a change of speech follows. The sinner’s mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. (See Romans 3:14) When we turn our lives over to Christ, we gladly confess that Jesus is Lord. As believers, our mouths are opened to praise and glorify God. (See Romans 15:6) Before we were saved, we lived in spiritual death. Paul describes those who are dead in sin in Romans 3:13, where he writes, “Their throats are open graves.” When we have love and hope and joy in our hearts, our words are full of blessing. So if we fill our hearts with the love of Christ, we increase the odds that truth and purity will come out of our mouths.

The words we speak hold power. Power to create new possibilities or to close them down. Power to build relationships or to damage them. Power to lift people up or to pull them down. We often don’t realize the impact our words have on ourselves and others. If  we did, we’d do far less complaining! You also would never hear yourself saying things like It’s impossible,  I’m totally hopeless, I had no choice. Such statements do nothing but undermine and complicate your situation. Psychologists have found that our subconscious mind interprets what it hears very literally. The words that come out of your mouth serve to create the reality you inhabit, whether good or bad. Unfortunately, it is more common that we unconsciously sabotage our success by using language that undermines our opinions, amplifies our problems, and chips away at our confidence.

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Whenever we moan or complain about our lives to others, we are putting those negative words out there to become a reality. When you say something out loud enough times, your words become the truth, not only in your own mind, but in the minds of everyone who hears you saying them. If this is really so then ask yourself, Do you really want to admit to yourself and everybody you know that you are unlucky in love, unsuccessful at your career, miserable, or a failure? Your words are creating the life you live. Begin to choose carefully the words you speak. Practice improved self-awareness over the words you use to describe yourself and your life. It would be wise to avoid negative, powerless words such as can’t, shouldn’t, impossible, won’t. They strip you of your ability to manifest the life you want to live. I can’t believe how many times I’ve caught myself saying I’m an idiot, or that things will never get better.

What you say goes. Therefore, when you catch yourself thinking negatively, redirect yourself. Don’t say, “I am unhealthy and overweight.” Turn this into a positive, constructive statement, such as, “I am in the process of becoming healthier, and every day I get closer to my ideal weight.” It important for you to believe this is not merely a question of semantics. Words paint your reality. Choose them wisely. The next time you open your mouth to complain, or put yourself or others down, ask yourself, “Why am I about to say this?” How is this statement going to serve me or my happiness?” Most importantly, you will realize that buying into these fears will do nothing for your happiness. Negative words can only make you feel worse, ultimately manifesting negative consequences in your life.

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Being in Relationship With God

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? (Psalm 42:2) (NIV)

What a fantastic Scripture reference. It speaks of a profound desire to commune with God. As I often do, I grabbed Eugene H. Peterson’s The Message Remix: The Bible in Contemporary Language, and I turned to Psalm 42. Peterson translates the first few verses as follows: “A White-tailed deer drinks from the creek; I want to drink God, deep drafts of God. I’m thirsty for God – alive. I wonder, ‘Will I ever make it – arrive and drink in God’s presence?'” (The Message)

Let’s consider what it means to be in a relationship. Dictionary.com says relationship is “a connection, association, or involvement…an emotional or other connection.” We are social animals. God created us that way. Genesis 2:18 tells us God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” (NLT) So it is only natural that we are created for being in relationship with God. Obviously, all relationships require work. They don’t just happen. When it comes to a relationship with God, we tend to feel as though we inherited our faith from our parents, and that we are one of His. Although family does have an impact on what we believe, the time comes when we must decide for ourselves. Until we make that decision, there is no real basis for relationship.

Foundation is important in all things, including relationships. Decide what you truly feel about God and tell Him. He’s big enough. He can take it. You can’t tell Him something He hasn’t already heard. My mentor and friend from church  believes in writing a letter to God. You might be thinking, as I did initially, “But God must know this stuff already, right? He knows the number of hairs on my head.” True, but the letter will serve as a cement slab on which you can erect your relationship with God. (Write out your concerns, doubts, and feelings in long-hand. I recommend not using your laptop for this exercise. A handwritten note is more personal.)

The number-one key in a good relationship is knowing your expectations.  Once you establish the base for your relationship with God, you can begin to build upon it every day through prayer and devotional reading of the Scriptures. I can’t overstate this point: Don’t sit on negative feelings too long. Otherwise, you will develop an offense or resentment toward God. Satan loves this because it tends to cut us off from God. As much as this is true in relationships with friends, family, or spouses, it is more so in a relationship with your Heavenly Father. The longer you wait to talk, the harder it gets. If you’re mad at God, go to Him as soon as possible. Preferably in a private place.

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Relationship is about finding and meeting God. As Perrott puts it, “It’s about starting and nurturing an honest relationship with our Creator. It’s about coming to terms with ourselves.” Sarah Young is the author of a daily devotional titled Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence.” Her reading for March 17, says, in part, “Come to Me for understanding since I know you far better than you know yourself. I comprehend you in all your complexity; no detail of your life is hidden from Me. I view you through eyes of grace, so don’t be afraid…when no one else seems to understand you, simply draw closer to Me. Rejoice in the One who understands you completely and loves you perfectly.”

The following comments are from Chip Ingram, Teaching Pastor at Living on the Edge. I was truly shocked by how much I could relate, minus the Marine upbringing part. Relationships, whether with a spouse or Almighty God, cannot be fear-based. Having a real, intimate relationship with God is not about using the right words, spiritual techniques, twisting God’s arm, or trying to live a perfect life. As we grow closer to Him, we come to see that He already knows our heart.

I spent many years living under a performance mentality, partly due to my “Marine” upbringing. I was taught from a young age that discipline and performance were paramount, so when I became a Christian I approached my relationship with God the same way. I remember I used to go through a long prayer list every day, worrying that I’d make a mistake and leave someone or something out. I also thought that in order to “get God on my team” there must be a certain formula, or specific actions that I needed to follow. But nothing I tried seemed to bring me feeling closer to God. Living on the Edge

Naturally, there are some basics we need to consider. For example, we need to make a daily habit of confessing our sin. If sin is the barrier in our relationship with God, then confession removes that barrier. When we confess our sins, He promises to forgive us of those sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (See 1 John 1:9) Forgiveness is what restores a strained relationship. However, confession is more than simply saying, “I’m sorry for my sin, God.” It is heartfelt contrition out of recognition that our sin is an offense to a Holy God. It is confession born out of realizing our sin nailed Jesus to the cross.

Of course, to have a closer relationship with God we need to listen when He speaks. Many people today are chasing a supernatural experience of hearing God’s voice, but Peter tells us we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which we would do well to pay attention. That “more sure prophetic word” is the Bible. In the Bible, we hear God’s voice to us. It is through the God-breathed Scriptures that we become “thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (See 2 Timothy 3:16-17) If we want to grow closer to God, we should read His Word regularly. When we read Scripture, we are listening to God speak through it by his Spirit who illuminates the Word to us.

Another critical component is to speak to God daily through prayer.  The Gospels provide many examples of Jesus secreting Himself away to commune with the Heavenly Father. Prayer is much more than simply a way to ask God for things we need or want. Consider the model prayer that Jesus gives His disciples in Matthew 6:9-13. The first three petitions in that prayer are directed toward God (may His name be hallowed, may His kingdom come, may His will be done). The last three petitions are requests we make of God after we’ve taken care of the first three (give us our daily bread, forgive us our sins, lead us not into temptation). I have found that reading the Psalms on a regular basis has enhanced my prayer life. Many of the Psalms are heartfelt cries to God with adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and supplication.

Obedience will help us grow closer to God. Jesus told His disciples in the upper room, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” (See John 14:23) James tells us that as we submit ourselves to God through obedience, resist the devil, and draw near to God, He will draw near to us. (See James 4:7-8) Paul tells us in Romans 12:1 that our obedience is our “living sacrifice” of thanksgiving to God. I believe obedience is our proper response to the grace of God we received through salvation. We don’t earn salvation through our obedience, but we were bought with a price. Oh, what a tremendous price it was! The only true way we can show our love and gratitude toward God is to honor His Word.

It might sound simplistic, but consider how we develop a closer relationship with other human beings. We spend time with them in conversation, opening our hearts to them and listening to them at the same time. We acknowledge when we’ve done wrong and seek forgiveness. We love them. We treat them well and sacrifice our own needs to fulfill theirs. It’s not really that different with our relationship to our Heavenly Father. Surely, we have to admit to ourselves that we are social beings in need of relationship. Furthermore, we need to see relationship with God as critical to joy, peace, fulfillment, and a sense of belonging in an otherwise vast and scary universe.

How few people we know, or even know of, who experience the kind of closeness with God that our hearts long for. Even in Scripture only a handful of people seemed to have a special relationship with the Father. Abraham was called a friend of God. The Lord spoke with Moses face to face. Isaiah saw the Lord sitting on a throne. Paul was taken up into the third heaven, and the Apostle John had an incredible vision, which he recorded in the book of Revelation. These are not every day encounters with Jesus. Each of these individuals developed a closeness with God that ultimately changed their lives, as well as hundreds of millions of others over the last 2,000 years.

God does not have a secret society of intimate friends. We are as intimate with God as we choose to be. It is our desire, our abiding, our purity that will determine the depth of our intimacy with Him. Intimacy is understanding that I may feel “hinged” or “unhinged.” It is knowing that I must sit at the feet of Jesus, so that I can walk with integrity as His friend. It is experiencing the closeness of the Lord and at other times wondering if He is near. Essentially, intimacy is abandonment of ourselves to the Lord—abandonment born out of trust and an intense longing to know the living God.

Death

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

We passed the school, where children strove
At recess, in the ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.

Or rather, he passed us;
The dews grew quivering and chill,
For only gossamer my gown,
My tippet only tulle.

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

Since then ’tis centuries, and yet each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses’ heads
Were toward eternity.

Emily Dickinson

A Study in Romans Chapter 8

In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, he explains that we are saved by grace, and not by obeying the Law of Moses. In Romans 6, he dealt with the old objection that if we are under grace, then why should we bother to change our ways. If all our sins are forgiven, why worry about sin? We read in Romans 6:1-2, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin so that grace may abound?  God forbid!” Grace is no excuse to sin. We died to sin when we were crucified with Christ.

In Chapter 7, Paul clarifies the relationship between the law and sin. He begins with the example that the law has authority over someone only so long as he lives. When we died to sin, we also died to the Law of Moses. In the eyes of the law, we are dead. We’ve been given a new life in Christ. Abundant and free. We are supposed to avoid sin, but sin is no longer defined by the law of Moses. Rather, it is defined by the character of Christ.

In the eighth chapter of Romans, Paul makes a declaration of freedom; spiritual freedom through the Holy Spirit. He also speaks of four freedoms we who are believers are to enjoy right now. Remember in our last lesson that Paul told us we are saved by grace.  We are not saved by obeying the written law. This, we discussed, does not of course give us permission to sin. Rather, we should serve God by being slaves to righteousness rather than being slaves to our flesh.

Chapters 6, 7 and 8 of Romans deal with sanctification. In Chapter 6, Paul shows us that we must not continue in sin, but live in holiness. The main theme of Chapter 6 is surrender. Just because we are under grace as born-again Christians, we cannot continue to sin so that grace may abound. Romans 6:1-2 says, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid! Grace is no excuse to sin. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” Remember, we died to sin when we were crucified with Christ. What had to be done was done. We are to walk in a new, resurrected life with Christ and not serve our flesh.

We are fleshly creatures, for sure. We have a body. We have a mind, will and a soul. We talked in the previous lesson about the struggle within us to live the Christian life. In Romans 7:24-25, Paul writes, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 8:1 speaks of the ultimate freedom. It says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”  Paul goes on to say in verse 2 that the Law of the Spirit in Christ Jesus has made us free from the Law of Sin and Death.”

The condemnation spoken about in verse one refers to “guilt.”  It refers us back to Romans 6:3-5 concerning how we were baptized in to Jesus Christ. We were baptized into His death, and  we were buried with Him. Likewise, we were raised up in new life with Him by the glory of the Father. We walk in a newness of life. For if we were planted (that is, grafted in) together with Christ in the likeness of His death, we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection. Our old man is crucified with Christ. The body of sin was destroyed that we might no longer have to serve sin.

The second verse of Chapter 8 deals with two competing laws. The Law of the Spirit of Christ Jesus and the Law of Sin and Death. These are the two most powerful Laws in the Universe; the Law of the Spirit of Christ Jesus alone is stronger than the Law of Sin and Death. This means that if the believer attempts to live for God by any manner other than Faith in Christ and the Cross, he is doomed to fail. In reviewing our prior lesson on Chapter 7, we recall talking about how it’s a struggle to live the Christian life. Romans 7:24 says, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Who will set me free?” Romans 7:25 says, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

We again see the answer in Romans 8:2, which says, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” There are fifteen things which the law of Moses could not do that are worth mentioning here:  the law could not justify us; it could not free us from sin and death; it could not free us from condemnation; it could not redeem us; it could not give us an inheritance; it could not bring righteousness; it could not impart the Holy Spirit; it could not perform miracles; it could not free us from the curse; it could not impart faith; it could not impart grace; it could not make us perfect; it could not control sin in man; it could not keep man from sin; and it could not enable a man to obey.

Let’s look at those freedoms we mentioned earlier. First, there is freedom from judgment. Romans 8:1-4, in the Amplified Bible, tells us, “Therefore [there is] now no condemnation (no adjudging guilty of wrong) for those who are in Christ Jesus, who live [and] walk not after the dictates of the flesh, but after the dictates of the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life [which is] in Christ Jesus [the law of our new being] has freed me from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the Law could not do, [its power] being weakened by the flesh [the entire nature of man without the Holy Spirit].  Sending His own Son in the guise of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, [God] condemned sin in the flesh [subdued, overcame, deprived it of its power over all who accept that sacrifice]. So that the righteous and just requirement of the Law might be fully met in us who live and move not in the ways of the flesh but in the ways of the Spirit [our lives governed not by the standards and in according to the dictates of the flesh, but controlled by the Holy Spirit.]

Second, there is freedom from defeat. Romans 8:5-17 talks about how those that are after the flesh mind (i.e., pay attention to) the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit, they mind the things of the Spirit. The phrase “after the flesh” literally means that which you set your affections on. Those who set their affections on the things of the flesh will naturally fulfill them.  Of course, verse 6 tells us that to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is peace and life. Minding the things of the flesh is against God in every way. Such a mind will not obey the law of God, nor can it do so because it submits itself to sin. As long as the sinful mind lives in rebellion it cannot please God. So verse 8 tells us they that are in the flesh cannot please God.

The good news: If Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwells in you. Quicken here means to make alive. You might remember Romans 7 being filled with words like “I,” “my,” and “me.” Romans 8 is characterized by the word “Spirit” 17 times. Through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we have power to live a Christian life.

That kind of power is available to you when the Holy Spirit controls your mind. For the Apostle Paul, there are only two different mind sets, only two different thought patterns.  They are at odds with one another. Your mind is either controlled by the sinful nature or by the Spirit of Christ. There is no half-measure. In fact, Paul makes it very clear in verse 8 that if you have not the Spirit of Christ you are none of his. He means you’re not quite a Christian yet. When you trust Christ as your Lord and Savior, you are marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing your inheritance. (See Ephesians 1:13). The seal of the Holy Spirit is a metaphor for how God has given each believer the power of the Holy Spirit living inside enabling us to live differently than we did before.  We know the sinful nature is hostile to God. So if we have the Spirit of Christ in us, yet choose our fleshly behaviors, we grieve the Holy Spirit.

We get freedom from discouragement when we have the Spirit of Christ in us. Just as we get defeated when we feel like a failure, God knows we get discouraged when we don’t have Hope: when we don’t see purpose or meaning in our lives. What often opens the door to discouragement is pain and suffering. Paul says “look, I know you all are going to have pain and tough times, it’s part of life; part of living life as a believer in a hostile world. But it’s going to be worth it all when we see Jesus. Verse 12 tells us we are debtors not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. We owe the flesh nothing. It has no more control of our lives. We must not live in the sins of the flesh or we shall die. But if we will put to death the practices of the flesh by the Spirit, we shall live. Let’s look at Galatians 5:16-18.  My study Bible has the subheading of “victory.” The verses say, “This I say then, walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the other so that you cannot do the things that you would. But if you be led of the Spirit, you are not under the law.” We are going to get into this more in depth in a few weeks when we shift our focus from Romans to Galatians and study the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit.

Despite our trials, our weakness and our sins, “we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” God does not cause all things, but he allows them and works with them for his purpose. He has a plan for us, and we can be confident that he will complete his work in us. God planned in advance that we should become like his Son, Jesus Christ. So he called us through the Gospel, justified us through faith in his Son, and united us with him in his glory: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (See Romans 8:29-30)

The meaning of foreknowledge and predestination is vigorously debated, and this verse does not resolve the debate, for Paul is not focusing on these words here (nor does he elsewhere). Paul is not commenting, for example, on whether God allows people to reject the glory he has planned for them. Paul’s purpose here, as he nears the climax of his presentation of the Gospel, is to assure readers that they do not need to worry about their salvation. If they want it, they’ll get it. And for rhetorical effect, Paul speaks even of being glorified in the past tense. It is as good as done. Even though we have struggles in this life, we can count on glory in the next life.

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all — how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? (verses 31-32). If God went so far as to give us his Son even when we were sinners, we can be sure that He will give us everything else that we need to make it. We can be sure that He is not going to get angry at us and take away His offer.

“Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies” (v. 33). On the day of judgment, no one can accuse us, for God has declared us not guilty. No one can condemn us, for Christ our Savior is interceding for us: “Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (v. 34). We have not just a sacrifice for our sins, but also a living Savior who continues to help us in our journey toward glory. Paul’s rhetorical skill shines in the stirring climax of the chapter: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’” (verses 35-37, quoting Psalm 44:22) Can our troubles separate us from God? Even if we are killed for the faith, have we lost the battle?

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37) I like the fact that the Apostle Paul did not say that we will become conquerors if we work at it; rather, he said we are more than conquerors right now. This simply means that the work has been done by Christ. The enemy is defeated. We died to sin when Christ died, and we are raised up in life with Him. If we start acting like it, seeing ourselves as more than conquerors, we will live a prosperous and victorious life. Start looking through the eyes of faith. See yourself prospering, and keep that image in your heart and mind.

From Head to Heart

“And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3)

This statement by the Lord Jesus begins in a very profound manner: “And this is eternal life.” To complete such a statement requires comprehensive truth. If the statement had started with “this is included in eternal life,” many non-comprehensive matters could be used to finish the statement. After all, we could certainly argue that forgiveness of sins is included in eternal life. Escaping hell and securing heaven are also included in eternal life. Likewise, meaning and purpose for living are included in eternal life. Additionally, we find spiritual gifts and spiritual fruit in eternal life. Of course, fellowship in the body of Christ and new understanding of the Scriptures are included. Nevertheless, none of these individually, nor all of these collectively, are sufficient to complete the statement: “And this is eternal life.”

To finish that profound beginning, we need to add an all-encompassing truth. We must speak of the full dimensions of eternal life. What is large enough to complete that majestic opening? Only the one reality of knowing God would be adequate: “that they may know You.” Yes, knowing God is what eternal life is all about. It is only through meeting the Lord that forgiveness is found. It is only by being in Christ that we escape hell and secure heaven. Then, it is only through getting acquainted with the Lord that meaning and purpose for our lives are made real to us. Also, it is only through a growing intimacy of trust in Christ that spiritual gifts and spiritual fruit can properly mature. Furthermore, it is only through an increasing acquaintanceship with the Lord that Christian fellowship and biblical insight are appropriately developed.

These truths certainly concur with those prophetic words of old that promised a new covenant of grace to replace the old covenant of law. “I will make a new covenant…not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers…But this is the covenant that I will make…I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people…they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them” (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Hebrews 8:11 applies these words to followers of Christ. “All shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.” The new covenant provides a growing, intimate acquaintanceship for all who will walk in its terms of grace.

A good friend of mine has said to me repeatedly, “I hope one day you get God out of your head and into your heart.” Naturally, I’ve argued again and again that I already have God in my heart. Then I think about many of the decisions I make. How I decide (basically, how I rationalize) that the rules don’t apply to me. I decide to do something because it suits my situation. I feel justified because of how I’ve been treated, or because others have been able to “get away with it.” On the surface, it seems like nothing more than survival. But when I consider my behavior from a Christian worldview, I realize what I’ve done is unacceptable.

Consider, for example, writing a check. This is a normal everyday practice for millions of Americans. For me, I’m ashamed to admit, I’ve written many checks hoping to cover them “in time,” justifying my decision because I needed medicine or food, or the rent was due. As you can imagine, each time I do that, I increase the odds that I will not be able to cover every check. When I reflect on that behavior now, I think of two of the Ten Commandments. We are not supposed to steal, and we are not to bear false witness. Isn’t writing a bad check breaking both Commandments? Is this proper Christian behavior?

Psalm 119:10-11 says, “With all my heart I have sought You; Do not let me wander from Your commandments. Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You.” (NASB) A pastor friend of mine, who comes from a lineage of pastors, said he memorized Scripture growing up in order to aid in standing against the wiles of the devil. It is certainly not a fool-proof solution to sin (we are, after all, finite, fallible, easily tempted), but he is able to consistently avoid sexual immorality, such as pornography, has remained a virgin until marriage, and in the two years I’ve known him I have never heard him utter a curse word or use the Lord’s name in vain.

What I’ve come to understand is that although I have God in my heart, I have not given Him every room. It’s funny, but I see some of this as sinful pride. Like I’m saying I am too far gone even for Christ to save. Thankfully, I don’t fully believe this, and it’s only been a passing thought here and there. It is truly a slap in the face of Christ to tell Him what He did on the cross was enough for everyone in the entire world but me. When I get the sense that I’m acting as though I believe this, I repent of it immediately. There could be no greater propitiation for my sin. There is no other solution. The entire Creation has been groaning since the Fall as a result of sin entering the world. Obviously, nothing else could rectify the problem but the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.

 

America’s Fentanyl Crisis

Every day 91 Americans fatally overdose on an opioid drug. It may be a prescription analgesic or heroin–4 to 8 percent of people who misuse painkillers transition to heroin–but increasingly it is likely to be heroin’s much more potent synthetic cousin fentanyl. In the space of only two years, fentanyl has tragically escalated the opioid crisis. This drug is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and able to enter the brain especially quickly because of its high fat solubility; just 2 milligrams can kill a person, and emergency personnel who touch or breathe it may even be put in danger. Unfortunately, many people addicted to opioids as well as other drugs like cocaine are accidentally being poisoned by fentanyl-laced products.

Although fentanyl is a medicine prescribed for post-surgical pain and palliative care, most of the fentanyl responsible for this surge of deaths is made illicitly in China and imported to the United States via the mail or Mexican drug cartels. Its high potency and ease of manufacture make it enormously profitable to produce and sell. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), one kilogram of fentanyl can be purchased in China for $3,000 to $5,000 and then generate over $1.5 million in revenue through illicit sales in America. Thus, distributors of illicit drugs are eager to adulterate heroin or cocaine powder with fentanyl or put it in counterfeit prescription drugs, such as pills made to look like prescription pain relievers or sedatives. Last month, for example, a wave of deaths in Florida was linked to fake Xanax pills containing fentanyl.

Deaths from fentanyl and a handful of other synthetic opioids tripled from 3,105 in 2013 to 9,580 in 2015, and those numbers are likely underestimates; some medical examiners do not test for fentanyl and many overdose death certificates do not list specific drugs involved. Thus far, New Hampshire has recorded the most fentanyl overdoses per capita; an NIDA-funded study found that in 2015, almost two-thirds of the 439 drug deaths in that state involved fentanyl. Although most who fatally overdose on fentanyl are unaware of what they have taken, news of such fatalities has unbelievably driven some people with severe opioid addictions to seek it out. Part of the cycle of an opioid use disorder is increased tolerance, causing diminished response to the drug, which leads users to seek products with higher potency so they can experience the euphoria they initially felt. Roughly one-third of opioid users interviewed as part of the study in New Hampshire knowingly sought fentanyl.

The fentanyl problem is already a high priority for policymakers. Last month, NIDA’s Deputy Director Wilson Compton testified before Congress on the science of fentanyl, accompanied by representatives from the DEA, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the CDC, and other agencies. Diplomatic and law enforcement efforts to cut off the supply of illicit fentanyl and the chemicals needed to manufacture it will be important, but the emergence of very high potency opioids–which can be transported in smaller volumes–will make addressing supply increasingly difficult. Thus, a public health strategy to address the opioid crisis and overdose epidemic is more important than ever.

First, we must improve pain management and minimize our reliance on existing opioid pain medications. Second, treatment centers and healthcare systems must make much wider use of available, effective medications for opioid addiction (Buprenorphine, Methadone, and extended-release Vivitrol). Third, the opioid-overdose reversing drug naloxone needs to be made as widely available as possible, both to emergency first responders as well as to opioid users and other laypeople who may find themselves in a position to save a life. In cases of fentanyl overdose, multiple doses of naloxone may be needed to reverse an overdose, and additional hospital care may be needed. All individuals who overdose on opioids need to be linked to a treatment program to prevent it from happening again.

From the blog of Dr. Nora Volkow, Dir., National Institute on Drug Abuse
April 6, 2017

Jimmy

It was gray, chilling to the bone,
with dry leaves getting tangled
in her hair.
Her thoughts were viscous-like;
she could actually hear them
sloshing in her head.

She stumbled, hesitated,
reaching for a tree trunk.
Suddenly there was
a commotion in the water,
just thirty yards out;
someone splashing, no,
struggling,
fighting for their life.

The woman cried out,
then sprinted for the edge
of the lake not bothering
to take off her heavy coat.

Spectators started to gather
(the path around the reservoir
was popular among joggers
and walkers), and it wasn’t
long before police and fire
rescue had arrived.

Later, at the hospital, the woman’s
daughter asked why she went
into the water.
“To save your brother. To save Jimmy!
“Oh mom, Jimmy’s been gone for years.”

©2017 Steven Barto